Stephen Payne is a NASA expert on ground, launch and recovery operations for the Commercial Crew Program office at Kennedy Space Center. In this position, he provides the experience gained during his 22 years in the Space Shuttle program to commercial partners who are already experienced in un-manned launches, but are new to the complexities involved in launch and recovery of astronauts. Prior to his service with NASA, Steve received a commission from the U.S. Navy and became a naval aviator, flying the F-14 Tomcat fighter. In 1988 he pursued an opportunity in naval intelligence as a Soviet air analyst in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Steve transitioned to the civilian sector in 1990, after serving six years on active duty, but continued his military career in the Navy Reserve. He retired at the rank of Captain in 2010 after serving for over 27 years. He has held leadership positions in Navy Reserve units supporting the Office of Naval Intelligence, Special Operations Command, and U.S. Atlantic Fleet. He was the director of the Reserve Intelligence School at NAS Jacksonville, and served two tours as Commanding Officer of reserve units supporting U.S. Central Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
In 1990, began his career in space at Kennedy Space Center as a payload operations engineer working for Lockheed Space Operations Company. NASA offered him a position the following year coordinating space shuttle cargo installation, testing and removal. In 1994, he was assigned to the Flight Crew Operations Directorate as liaison engineer to the Astronaut Office and a member of the Vehicle Integration Test Team. In 1996, Steve was selected to be a NASA Test Director. In that position, he was involved with the ground processing and launch of numerous space shuttle missions. He served as Ground Operations Manager, supporting landing operations at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico and at trans-Atlantic abort landing sites in Spain and Morocco. He held positions as Shuttle Tanking Test Director and as Lead NASA Test Director. In 2003, after the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, Steve worked with the multi-agency team coordinating search and recovery efforts in the western United States. In 2004, Steve was mobilized for one year of active duty with Headquarters, U.S. Central Command, where he supported the intelligence directorate developing contingency war plans.
Upon his return to NASA from Navy active duty in 2005, Steve was named Shuttle Test Director, one of only two personnel tasked with leading the Space Shuttle launch team during the planning, scheduling and execution of the Shuttle launch countdown. He planned and directed countdown operations for eight Space Shuttle launches. In 2012 Steve became the Chief NASA Test Director and Chief of the Launch Complex Operations branch at Kennedy Space Center. He was instrumental in helping lead KSC’s transition from a shuttle-only launch facility to a multi-user spaceport. In addition to his regular NASA duties, Steve has also been a STEM Astronomy advisor for the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council, a mentor for high school students, a guest science teacher and science fair judge, an advisor for the FIRST and FTC robotics competitions, and a speaker with the KSC speaker’s bureau.
A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Steve holds a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Syracuse University and a Master of Science degree in engineering management from the University of Central Florida. He lives in Orlando with his wife, Olga, and their two children, Rachel and Eric.